the paradox.

April 1, 2007 — 4 Comments

I’ve been mulling over The Strategy Paradox for the last few days, and found it to be super interesting. The theory has two assumptions:

1) A successful strategy requires full commitment

2) Full commitment, in light of unpredictable futures, can mean catastrophic failure

And thus, the more you strategize, the more likely you are to be both massively successful and massively unsuccessful. The only middle ground–and often the most commonly taken–is mediocrity, where the company is neither successful or driven out of business.

Raynor, the author of the book, poses a conclusion we often find ourselves also coming to:

“The only way [Company X] could have managed the situation any better is to have predicted the future…and that of course, is impossible. The future never gets here.”

He sees strategies as equity or stock. You’re purchasing the stock, and if you guessed right, you make money and if you guess wrong, you lose. The real way to succeed then, is to buy options on stocks. Essentially, to set up multiple, concurrent strategy options, from which you can then “agree to buy” the winners. These options then make your chosen strategy mobile in the face on an unpredictable future. This gives you strategic flexibility.

The book is solid, but of course, almost 100% applied to business. I think it’d be interesting to see it applied to life. Too often, people my age are fully dedicated to a single career path–which in turn would likely insure success in that field. The only problem then, is that if they hate the job (which in all likelihood they will) they have no where to turn. It seems to me that the key to strategic flexibility in life is to sow the seeds to a renaissance existence. Foster your interests in multiple fields, so that in light of the future, you have the ability to quickly ramp up one to dedicate your life around.

In other words, create options instead of commitments. Let’s say I want to be a writer (which, to some extent I do) how can I dedicate myself to a single path, when it’s clear that the distribution habits of publishers and reading habits of the audience are going to drastically change? I think the key is to focus where Rudius authors are focusing: creating quality content that is easily adaptable to multiple mediums. By investing in each medium, I (as well as anyone else with foresight) can then ramp up production in the ones with audiences and stop altogether in the ones that fail.

But the main message of his book–above anything else–is that an option is not an option if you cannot abandon it. Because then, it’s not an option but an obligation. He warns against our “propensity to view any retreat as a sign of weakness rather than prudence.” And I think that’s wise.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

4 responses to the paradox.

  1. Ryan,

    Have you come by any books with a similar theme to The Strategy Paradox pertaining to life?

    “The book is solid, but of course, almost 100% applied to business. I think it’d be interesting to see it applied to life. ”

    Just wondering, since it’s been a few years since this post.


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